DETROIT – It's a fact that Kelly Sosnowski still struggles to believe sometimes.
"I had a heart attack at the age of 41," said Sosnowski. "I didn't have high blood pressure. I didn't have high cholesterol. I wasn't overweight."
Looking back now, two years later, Sosnowski can clearly see her heart attack progressing. But in the moment, she never imagined that a heart issue was to blame.
“In hindsight, my symptoms probably started months in advance,” said Sosnowski. “I was retaining water, but I thought I was gaining a little weight, and I didn’t know why.”
It was a Thursday in July of 2017, when something else caught her attention.
“I took my daughter to softball practice, and I ran to the store really quick in between to do an errand, and when I was walking, I would get a sharp pain right here and in my upper back and then when I stopped, it would go away, and I was like, ‘Hmm, that’s odd,’” said Sosnowski. “I woke up the next morning on Friday and still had that uncomfortable feeling in my chest and back, so I called my doctor.”
Her doctor said it sounded muscular, like she might have pulled something exercising.
“I actually said a little bit tongue in cheek, ‘My chest is so tight that if I didn’t know better, I’m having a heart attack.’”
Her doctor suggested she ice her back, so she did, and it felt a little better.
“That Friday night, I went to bed and I started to feel a terrible pain in my chest, and I kept thinking, ‘This is crazy, there’s nothing they can do for this, it’s muscular.’”
When she woke up on Saturday --
“I was in the shower, and I was washing my hair and when I lifted my arms, the pain would start to flair up again,” remembered Sosnowski.
So she did what she says most moms would do -- and went to her son’s baseball tournament.
She felt terrible in the 95 degree heat.
“After a full day of baseball, my husband was like, ‘You just don’t look good. Let’s just go in,’” said Sosnowski.
At the hospital, they discovered, she was having a heart attack.
There was a 95 percent blockage in her left descending artery, a blockage sometimes referred to as the “widowmaker.”
Doctors opened up her artery and put in a stent. Her heart has made a full recovery. It took much longer to recover emotionally.
“I had every standard symptom that I’ve read in a text book, and I ignored them,” said Sosnowski. “I was told had I waited one more night and gone to sleep at home, I wouldn’t have woken up.”
When most people imagine what it would feel like to suffer a heart attack, they picture crushing chest pain, the “elephant on your chest” feeling that some people describe. But in reality, the symptoms are often not that obvious.
“My symptoms did not feel anything like a heart attack would feel like. My arm pain? It was just a very heavy arm. My chest pain and my back pain? If you’ve ever lifted a box too heavy, you’ve had that pain,” explained Sosnowski. “The pain is familiar that you have, but it’s absolutely related to something else, and if you don’t put the pieces together, it can cost you your life.”
Sosnowski hopes sharing her experience will encourage others to act faster. She is forever grateful that her husband insisted she go to the emergency room.
“I’m very thankful for him being persistent. I can’t stress enough that for loved ones, to cue in on those things, especially for women because we dismiss so many things,” said Sosnowski. “It’s very easy to say, ‘I’ll be fine, I’ll be fine.’ And you know what, you always end up being fine, so it reenforces that ‘I’ll be fine this time,’ but in reality, there could be a time you’re not fine.”
Better to be safe, than sorry.
“If you don’t feel good, go in. Because there is really nothing more important than that,” said Sosnowski. “Just because I went to baseball, I almost left my children without a mother.”
To learn more about heart health and the symptoms of a heart attack, visit the American Heart Association website.